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Storm of this century strands citizens in Chico

Jerry Gebhardt thought she was going to make it home in her car on Monday, Jan. 7, after leaving her teaching job at Kitsap Adventist School on Taylor Road between Bremerton and Silverdale.

But she stopped to speak with the school principal for a few minutes, enough time to put Gebhardt’s plans on hold until Friday, Jan. 11.

The record-setting rainstorm that began Jan. 6 had washed out Taylor Road, leaving Gebhardt and others stranded.

Two school aids who left the building at 4:30 p.m. made it home. By 4:45 p.m., when Gebhardt left the building, the road was no more — replaced by a 30-foot chasm caused when more than seven inches of rain fell during a 24-hour period.

“I saw a woman walking along the road and she slowed me down and told me the road was out,” Gebhardt said.

“That woman probably saved my wife’s life when she slowed her down,” said Tim Gebhardt, pastor of the Bremerton Seventh-Day Adventist Church, across the street from the school.

Unable to drive out, Jerry Gebhardt and others on the western bank of Wildcat Creek walked up a trail and across U.S. Navy’s railroad tracks to Seabeck Highway. Gebhardt’s car remained stranded at the school until Friday.

County officials located a prefabricated bridge in northern California on Thursday.

“We’re telling residents in the neighborhood that it could be four to eight weeks to get it installed,” said Doug Bear, a spokesperson for the county Department of Public Work, “because we’re asking that the current owners to sandblast it and paint it before shipping it here because of environmental reasons.”

Engineers are being hired to oversee installation of the bridge, which will be a permanent fix.

County officials will discuss construction plans with neighborhood residents at a meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. today, Jan. 12, at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

“There’s a real sense of community there and they support each other,” Bear said. “They’re all helping each other, making sure they have food and medicine for those who can’t get out.”

“We’re doing everything we can to help them,” said county Department of Emergency Management spokesperson Laura Jull. “We’re doing what we can to help the social services of the folks out there.”

Taylor Road residents were given an hour Friday morning to get their cars out of the neighborhood via a primitive road used by the Public Works Department.

“This is a one-chance opportunity for them to get their vehicles and anything else they want out,” Bear said. “This is a construction road that’s not designed for cars at all.”

Jim LeCuyer, manager of hydrologic services and water quality for Kitsap Public Utilities District No.1, said logs in Wildcat Creek caused the road collapse.

“What had occurred is the log fall piled up on the upstream side of the culvert,” LeCuyer said. “The culvert was blocked off and water began to back up and overflow on to the road. It undermined the pavement and began to wash everything away.”

Steve Smith watched the rapid attack of the water from his front yard on the eastern bank of Wildcat Creek. The culvert “just bent, and it was a matter of minutes before the water came up,” Smith said.

The rushing waters came across Smith’s yard and swept away several feet of bank, shrinking his property by 800 square feet in a matter of minutes.

The flood left a coat of mud in Smith’s carport, but only a couple gallons of water invaded the basement of his rambler home.

Smith feared that Dickerson Creek, which runs alongside his eastern property line before it connects with Wildcat Creek, might overflow, so he and his family fled until the water receded.

“It’s a very creepy feeling to have to leave your home,” he said.

Joey Christman wasn’t quite so lucky. While he and his wife were at work, Dickerson Creek overflowed its banks and spilled into the basement he had finished carpeting and decorating three weeks ago.

Under blue skies Tuesday, that new carpet and two new loveseats were piled in his driveway, ruined after being under a foot of water.

“That’s history,” said Christman, who bought the home five months ago. “The previous owners said it never flooded before. I don’t have flood insurance, so I don’t know what my homeowners’ insurance will cover.”

An outbuilding Christman was using as storage space also was flooded.

The damage could have been worse for Christman had it not been for an old bulkhead which kept the bank from washing away.

“At least it quit raining today,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”

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